Inaugural National Student Poet and Northeast representative, Claire Lee, returns to the AYAW blog to interview the 2013 Class of National Student Poets for her “Poets on Poets” series.
This week’s interview is with National Student Poet and Midwest Representative, Sojourner Ahebee!
Claire Lee: Hi! How have you been?
Sojourner Ahebee: Claire! OMG, hay gurl hayyyy! I’ve been good, summer’s been a blast.
CL: It’s so good to see you, well, at least through Google+ Hangout. Ok, let’s jump right in—what were some major events during the NSPP year for you?
SA: One of the biggest events was the appointment ceremony in D.C. We were recognized, and it sort of set the precedent of the rest of the year. It really got us excited and hyped for the year as National Student Poets. Also, the Academy of American Poets in New York gave us a first-hand experience with published, recognized poets in our country—it was really humbling and really great to be there.
CL: Wow, seems like there were a lot of major events this year! Yes, I’m going to be that person and ask you which was your favorite highlight…So, what was your favorite thing about being a National Student Poet?
SA: Well, there were two major things. First off, my year as a National Student Poet really got me to see myself outside of my own writing…What I mean is I was always so focused on being a poet, seeing my own work on the page, but this program really opened my eyes and helped me see poems in other narratives within my own community. More specifically, working at the nursing home with the Alzheimer’s patients allowed me to see the role of my work outside of itself. And two, is just the friendship of this year’s class and last year’s. It’s been great to be around other people who love what I love. The love is real!
CL: Awwww, we love you too, Sojo! What are some of the National Student Poets Program-related events you’ve been doing this summer?
SA: In early June, I conducted a series of virtual poetry workshops with my old school in Cote D’Ivoire, in Africa. We chose a theme, and the theme was home—essentially, how you see your home. We also used spoken word poetry as a vehicle for that, so we created our own spoken word poems and watched some spoken word performances via YouTube. Another event was the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. This festival has been around for the past ten years or so and features more than 200 speakers from around the country and the world—like Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, and Beaux Willimon (the creator of the TV show House of Cards). So basically all these speakers bring all of their big ideas. The Aspen Institute invited us to attend the event. We weren’t featured speakers, but we got to listen in on various panels and seminars.
CL: Wow, that sounds amazing—how was it?
SA: It was really fun and super inspiring. I didn’t even know all these artists were involved in so many underground activities. Actually, one of my favorite actresses, Alfre Woodard, is involved the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities’ Turnaround Arts Initiative, where she goes into specific schools and tries to turnaround their arts programs. It was just inspiring, and it got me thinking how I could use my art in other ways (like education reform).
CL: That sounds like a lot of things were going on this year. What was the biggest challenge for you?
SA: For me, I guess it was scheduling and making sure things happened on the dates I wanted them to happen. For example, I started my poetry workshops in mid-January, during the worst weather this year, especially with the polar vortex. It was the biggest obstacle for us because we were so excited to just jump into the workshop. But other than that, everything was just seamless.
CL: Since it’s summer, any summer reading recommendations? What are you currently reading right now?
SA: I’m reading this book right now; it’s called My Year of Meats, by Ruth Ozeki, and it’s literally the best book I’ve read in a long time. So yeah, I definitely recommend it!
The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers partner to present the National Students Poets Program, the country’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work. Each year, five National Student Poets are selected through the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for a year of service as poetry ambassadors, each representing a different region of the country.